Following a historic diplomatic presence at the NATO summit, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol returned to Seoul, but was greeted by a record-low approval rating less than two months since he took office.
While domestic issues like the economy dragged down Yoon's approval rating, Chinese experts on Monday warned that closer ties with Japan and the US are highly possible options for South Korea, which could be feasible for the Yoon administration to undercut its disadvantage at home.
In a poll released by Research View on Sunday, one of the latest polls on national affairs in South Korea, 51 percent of South Koreans said Yoon's job as president is "inadequate," with 45 percent saying he was doing well, Yonhap News Agency reported.
The poll was conducted on 1,000 South Korean citizens aged 18 or above from last Tuesday to Thursday, covering Yoon's NATO summit trip, according to the Yonhap report. In the previous Research View's poll in May, only 40 percent viewed Yoon's performance negatively, with 53 percent saying Yoon was doing well.
Other surveys from Realmeter and the Korea Society Opinion Institute in late June also showed Yoon's approval rating surpassed by negative views, Yonhap reported.
In the latest separate weekly poll from Gallup Korea last week, Yoon's approval rating was 43 percent, dropping 4 percentage points, Korea Times said, noting that the average approval rating of former President Moon Jae-in in his first three years was 81 percent.
Local media said that the negative views on Yoon were due to ruling People Power Party (PPP)'s internal rift, as well as the country's economic difficulties.
People expect the government to do more for economic recovery than to show its presence in the international arena. The Yoon administration focused more on international politics and not on the economy and people's livelihood, Da Zhigang, director of the Institute of Northeast Asian Studies at the Heilongjiang Provincial Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Monday.
Da said the export-oriented Korean economy faces low growth and high inflation. High real estate prices, the devaluation of the Korean won, and debt problems are affecting people's livelihoods.
Citing data released by South Korea's trade ministry on Friday, local media reported that the country's trade deficit hit a high of $10.3 billion in the first half of 2022, which was caused by surging raw material prices.
Da said China should be wary of the Yoon administration's diplomatic "touchdown" to make up for its weakness in economy. "Enhancing deterrence against North Korea, cooperation with the US to contain China, and boosting trade and economic ties with Tokyo are possible reasons for Yoon repairing ties with Japan."
According to a Yonhap report on Monday, Seoul is planning to launch a "private-public consultative body" in order to solve the diplomatic row with Japan on compensation for the Korean victims of wartime forced labor.
On July 1, Yoon told media that Seoul and Tokyo should discuss the past and future to solve the two countries' longstanding disputes. Yoon also met with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at a three-way summit at the NATO summit.
The repairing of Seoul-Tokyo ties cannot be done by South Korea's one-sided, be-nice attitude. Behind this lies complicated processes, including the acceptance of Yoon's policies by the Japanese government and Japanese people, Lü Chao, an expert on the Korean Peninsula issue at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Monday.
The expert said that although Yoon has been careful not to talk about China on almost every major occasion to avoid negative impact on Beijing-Seoul relations, the Yoon administration seems to be more obedient to Washington than previous administrations.
Economic cooperation between China and South Korea is based on a mutually beneficial solid foundation. However, if South Korea blindly cooperates with the US and its allies without considering China's position, and even makes irrational economic judgments, it will worsen its own economic situation, Lü said.
China is South Korea's largest trading partner, export market and import source. In 2021, China-South Korea trade in goods reached $362.35 billion, up 26.9 percent year on year, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry.